© Reuters. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a phone call with Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine January 14, 2023. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) -Prime Minister Rishi Sunak indicated on Saturday that Britain would send Ukraine some of its main battle tanks along with additional artillery support, drawing swift reproach from the Russian Embassy in London.
During a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Sunak “outlined the UK’s ambition to intensify our support to Ukraine, including through the provision of Challenger 2 tanks and additional artillery systems”, a spokesperson for the prime minister said.
“The leaders reflected on the current state of Russia’s war in Ukraine, with successive Ukrainian victories pushing Russian troops back and compounding their military and morale issues,” the spokesperson added.
Media reports have suggested Britain was in discussions with Ukraine to deliver the Challengers to help the country fight Moscow’s forces.
Sunak’s office said earlier this week that Britain would coordinate its support with allies after Germany, France and the United States all indicated last week they would provide armoured vehicles to Ukraine.
According to Sky News, about a dozen tanks would be supplied, the first time such Western weaponry had been pledged. Sunak’s office said further details about the tanks’ deployment would be provided shortly.
The Russian Embassy in London said the decision to send the tanks would drag out the confrontation, lead to more victims including civilians, and was evidence of “the increasingly obvious involvement of London in the conflict”.
“As for the Challenger 2 tanks, they are unlikely to help the Armed Forces of Ukraine turn the tide on the battlefield, but they will become a legitimate large target for the Russian artillery,” the embassy said, according to comments cited by the TASS news agency.
The Challenger 2 is a battle tank designed to attack other tanks, and has been in service with the British Army since 1994. It has been deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Iraq, according to the army.
“The prime minister and President Zelenskiy welcomed other international commitments in this vein, including Poland’s offer to provide a company of Leopard tanks,” Sunak’s spokesperson said.
Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian president’s staff, thanked Britain for its new defence package.
“This is an important contribution to the defense of freedom and democracy in Europe. We are grateful to Rishi Sunak and the (British) people for their help,” he said on Twitter.